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Yi, Joseph, and Joe Phillips. ““Low-Road” Liberalism: Censoring Public Discourses on Communist North Korea and Imperial Japan.” Society (2023): 1-12.


An influential strain of thought supports restrictions on individual rights to achieve certain liberal values. The temporary use of illiberal means for ostensibly liberal ends (Doyle’s “low-road” liberalism) is embraced by both the political right and left to serve their partisan policy goals. Our essay analyzes low-road policies and practices, specifically speech restrictions, and how they are countered. We compare two transnational campaigns, mainly based in democratic South Korea, which criticize either the North Korean and Japanese governments for their current or past human rights violations. The “anti-North” campaign is supported by South Korea’s political right and the “anti-Japan” campaign by the left. Each has exercised bureaucratic-institutional power to stigmatize target groups and punish dissenting speech. Each campaign is countered by a mix of low-road, partisan opponents, who would similarly exercise illiberal power to achieve their respective goals, and high-road, procedural liberals, who secularly criticize censorship and endorse open, rational debate to correct flawed information, advance shared knowledge, and generate bipartisan, multilateral consensus.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.